Fitness Magazine

Aging and Your Digestive System

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter and Nina

Aging and Your Digestive System

Popcorn Vendor by Melina Meza

While some people have digestive systems that continue to function well as they age, in a given year, close to 40 percent of older adults experience digestive problems that are caused in large part by age-related changes to their digestive systems! In general, you can optimize your digestive health as you age by staying physically active, reducing chronic stress, supporting healthy eating, and maintaining a healthy weight. So a well-rounded yoga practice, including an active asana practice for exercise, mindfulness practices and meditation to support healthy eating and improve awareness of subtle changes in your body, and stress management practices to reduce the effects of chronic stress and allow you to spend more time in the Rest and Digest state—will support your digestive system overall. Now let’s take a closer took at how aging affects the individual components of your digestive system so you can help prevent some of the digestive problems from developing!Mouth, Tongue, Teeth, and Pharynx. Your mouth gradually changes with age, reducing or changing your sense of taste and altering how you “feel” the texture of food, which can affect your food preferences and eating habits. Chewing may also become more difficult, as your mouth produces less saliva, your tongue works less efficiently to move food, and/or your teeth may wear out. You may also have more trouble swallowing. Although you cannot influence these changes with yoga, mindful yoga practices, such as pranayama and meditation can support healthy eating habits and improve self-awareness, allowing you to tune you into these changes so you can address them with your health care team. Esophagus. The smooth muscles lining your entire gastrointestinal tract work less efficiently, slowing the downstream movement of food and liquids. In the esophagus this can cause swallowing, in some cases even gagging, choking, or vomiting. Restorative poses where your head and chest are higher than your belly and standing yoga postures can improve the functioning of your esophagus, and stress management practices will help both you and your esophagus relax.Stomach. As the lining of your stomach becomes less able to fight damage, your risk of developing peptic ulcers increases. In addition, your stomach becomes less elastic and cannot accommodate as much food, and the stomach empties into the small intestine at a slower rate, which may limit the size of your meals. Using yoga’s stress management practice will support stomach’s functioning, as you reduce chronic stress and spend more time in the Rest and Digest state. Small Intestines. Although the movement of contents and the absorption of most nutrients in the small intestines do not change much, they may slow down a bit. However, lactase, one of the enzymes in the small intestine, decreases with age, leading to intolerance of dairy products in many older adults. Cultivating mindfulness may alert you to this change and support better food choices.Large Intestines. Due to age-related changes in its smooth muscles, waste moves more slowly through your large intestines. This, plus weaker rectal contractions can contribute to constipation, a common problem for older adults. Using your yoga practice for exercise, especially including twists and forward bends, can help support healthy functioning of your large intestines.
Liver, Gallbladder, and Pancreas. As your liver ages, it shrinks, the blood flow in and out is reduced, and repair of liver cells slows, reducing your liver's ability to metabolize many substances. As a result, substances that are toxic to the liver, such as alcohol, can cause more damage in older people than in younger ones, and medication may have a stronger effect or produce more side effects. In the gallbladder, the production and flow of bile decrease with aging, increasing the frequency of gallstones. Although the pancreas also decreases in weight, with some tissue replaced by scarring, these age-related changes don’t affect its basic functioning. But, overall, to support three these organs, you can use yoga’s stress management tools to spend more time in in the Rest and Digest state and support a healthy lifestyle.

Gut Microbiome.
Older adults have a different microbial profile than younger adults, and, after 65, the number of microbial species decreases and the populations become more similar among individuals. While it is possible these age-related changes might negatively affect the relationship between your gut and your immune system, we don’t yet understand their specific effects. Stay tuned for new research findings! In the meantime, you can use yoga’s stress management tools to support your gut microbiome and foster healthy eating habits.
Enteric Nervous System. Although we still don’t know much about how intestinal nerves age, evidence suggests age-related changes may contribute to the increase in gastrointestinal disorders in older people, such as trouble swallowing, gastrointestinal reflux, and constipation. To support the functioning of your enteric nervous system, use yoga’s stress management tools to reduce chronic stress and spend more time in the Rest and Digest state. See Techniques for Cultivating Agility for our recommendations specific techniques you can use to support your digestive system.Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook ° Join this site with Google Friend Connect

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